Written 1996

Sam and Ethan in Ecuador


Our Journey to Cuenca With Natacha Reyes and Wilson Jaramillo

August 13, 1996
      Long travels in Ecuador are truly awful experiences. Ethan and I have crammed our legs on some of the most rickety buses imaginable on journeys that have lasted 8, 9, sometimes 11 hours. These buses usually travel at night and play kung-fu movies dubbed over in Spanish at decibel levels that are anything but conducive to sleep. We have arrived sleep deprived and cranky to many beautiful places, contented with crashing in cheap hotels rather than sight seeing. Needless to say, we have developed small phobias towards Ecuadorian modes of travel, and at times, staying in Quito has been just fine with us. image
     There has been one travel experience, however, that is worth talking about. With the help of Esquel, Ethan and I planned a visit to Cuenca to check out a few different projects in the Azuay province. Assuming we would be taking yet another red-eye from hell, we asked people at Esquel which bus line would be best. To our surprise and unbridled joy, they told us that we would be traveling via Wilson Jaramillo and the Esquel Land Cruiser. We excitedly packed our bags with the prospect of a ten our trip with ample leg room and both Natacha Reyes and Wilson for company.
     We set out early Sunday morning and had made our way through the province of Cotopaxi by mid day. Famous travel writer Alexander Von Humboldt called the journey from Quito to the "Avenue of Volcanoes", which seemed fitting as every ten miles or so a new Volcano appeared on the horizon. As Wilson "Mario Andretti" Jaramillo raced down the avenue, Ethan and I looked like a pair of dogs sticking our heads out of the window to enjoy the scenery.
     At about one thirty, we stopped in the town of Ambato for a little lunch. Natacha told us she knew of a perfect spot to grab a bite to eat, and Ethan and I followed along ignorantly. I froze cold when I saw seven gigantic rats grilling on an open spit. Unable to conceal a gigantic grimace, when they asked me if the place seemed all right, I squeaked out a timid, "Sure". I was a little relieved when they told me the animals were Cuyes (Large Guinea Pigs), but Ethan almost lost his lunch before actually having any. When Ethan was young he and his sister were joint partners in a Guinea Pig market. Starting with only Fred and Ginger, they bred about 45 little critters and sold them to local neighbors as pets. I consoled him as we sat down in the Salon de Cuyes. Obviously, we both opted for Fritada (a pork dish).

     As we continued on, Wilson and Natacha pointed out an incredible view where we could see the ocean from the mountains. The valley looked like a huge bowl of clam chowder, as the coast was covered with thick clouds. After indulging Ethan and I with a few minutes of tourism, we jumped back in the car to complete the final leg of our trip into Cuenca. Natacha popped in a tape of Andean rock in the stereo and I introduced her and Wilson to Charles Mingus.

     When we finally got to Cuenca and started visiting projects, we maintained the same laid back atmosphere. Our trips around Cuenca were spent singing cheesy Spanish songs and joking about Ethan and my inescapable gringo tendencies. Although Natacha, or Doctor Natacha Reyes as she was referred to at every project, is a well respected, powerful Ecuadorian feminist writer, she treated us as equals, and further, as friends. This marked the one of the first times where I felt able to break down the work atmosphere and just hang-out around Esquel members. Although we spent our days concentrating on serious projects, we maintained a Brady Bunch family vacation feeling throughout..

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Written 1996